Live Music + Gig Reviews

System Of A Down + The Eighties Matchbox B-Line Disaster @ MEN Arena, Manchester

14 June 2005

System Of A Down

System Of A Down

Both System Of A Down and The Eighties Matchbox B-Line Disaster have divided listeners with their most recent output – both have, in fact, faced a bit of slagging off from us at musicOMH. I have to disagree with my esteemed colleagues here though.

I think The Royal Society is one of the defining rock albums of last year (with no small thanks to the input of the Master of Reality, Chris Goss), but that’s nothing compared to the love I’ve got for SOAD’s latest half-a-double-album, Mezmerize – already one of the finest rock albums since Faith No More‘s Angel Dust, and that’s with the other half (Hypnotize) yet to come. So it will come as no surprise that I entered the MEN arena with high hopes for both acts – and I left hugely disappointed by one and utterly in love with the other. So who soared and who left us bored? Come now, as if there’s any doubt…

Anyone who’s seen System Of A Down live knows they can do little wrong, so let’s make a quick B-Line for the Disaster that preceded it. For all their dark club cool and 21st century Birthday Party style chic, Brighton lads The Eighties Matchbox B-Line Disaster are completely dwarfed by playing in an arena. Vocalist Guy McKnight’s Nick Cave drawl was indistinguishable, lost in a fug of poor acoustics.

Only three recognisable tracks from The Royal Society were heard, with many of the best ones notably absent. You wouldn’t notice, though, due to being distracted from the muddy sludge of noise by some of the most misguided stage lighting in history. Spotlights swung around the stage in time to the music pointing at the back, then across to the audience, as though an extension of a naff disco set from Maplins. They shone everywhere except on the band, who may as well not have been there, and each song had its own combination of two silly colours (white and tangerine for Mister Mental, anyone?). I was gutted. They were crap.

On to System Of A Down however, and the moment Daron Malakian’s shadow was projected onto the stage curtain, the strains of Soldier Side drifting through the arena, it was always going to change for the better. Bang! – stage curtain falls, we’re into BYOB, and the crowd goes instantly electric. Revenga follows. Lead singer Serj Tankian is running around the stage, a mischievous imp on heat that between songs looks alarmingly like Ronnie James Dio from a distance, whilst a great acoustic intro to Cigaro emphasises just how soulful Daron’s voice can be too, even when he is singing about the size of his cock. The crowd at the front have to be advised to move back for their own safety – they’re going crazy.

Although they start off as though they’re going straight through Mezmerize, this is actually a night dominated by the older stuff with almost the entirety of Toxicity getting an airing. During a blistering Chop Suey a lone lighter is held aloft amongst the glowing mobile phone staking pictures – the message gets across as by Lost in Hollywood we’ve got a proper lighter display going. Bounce has the so-called-seating areas literally shaking to the pogo, and somewhere through Needles an enthusiastic dancer behind us trips and tumbles forward, screaming ‘Pull the tape worm out of your ass!’. Excellent.

The lighting isn’t shit like before, in fact it’s dazzlingly effective and yes, we could see the band. Prison Song starts with Serj in a giant cone of white light, as though entering a giant cell through a single skylight before absolutely exploding. There isn’t an encore, which is odd, but it’s a long set that closes triumphantly with Sugar, a slowed down, vocodered intro giving us all the chance to sing about those kombucha mushroom people to our hearts content before System Of A Down leave the stage, and leave us breathless. Fantastic.

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More on System Of A Down
System Of A Down – Hypnotize
Interview: System Of A Down
System Of A Down’s Serj Tankian: “A democracy without its citizens knowing the truth is not a true democracy” – Q&A
System Of A Down + The Eighties Matchbox B-Line Disaster @ MEN Arena, Manchester
System Of A Down – Mezmerize